UK retail sales values fell 1.5 per cent for April, compared with the same month last year, when sales were up 2.4 per cent.

From February to April, like-for-like sales were down 0.6 per cent against the previous year. The year-on-year declines in March and April were the worst since spring 2005.

BRC director-general Stephen Robertson said: “This is the first time in three years we’ve had two months in a row of year-on-year falls in like-for-like sales, further evidence that hard-pressed customers are really watching the pounds.

“With higher fuel and utility bills eating away at people’s spare cash, they are concentrating on essentials like food. Despite heavy discounting, clothing and footwear were at their weakest for at least eight years and more expensive housing-related goods continue to struggle.”

Food sales picked up after slowing in March, but clothing and footwear fell further, to their worst for at least eight years. Furniture and larger homewares also remained down on a year ago, despite continued discounting and promotions.

KPMG head of retail Helen Dickinson said: “All sectors, with the exception of food, [smaller] homewares and toiletries, were in negative like-for-like territory for the month. April showed a double-digit decline for clothing and footwear.

“As these results only take us up to the Saturday of the bank holiday weekend, any pick-up on the back of this year’s fine bank holiday weather and its continuation into the past week will only be seen in May’s results.”

London’s West End also experienced a slowdown in April. Shopper footfall was down 6.3 per cent year on year, but was up 10.3 per cent for the month.